[Reader-list] Kashmir: the war for hearts and minds by Parveen Swami(in The Hindu)

rashneek kher rashneek at gmail.com
Wed Jun 4 09:26:18 IST 2008

Last week, thousands of young Srinagar residents turned out to hear the
Pakistani rock band, Junoon, performing the hit, *Sayonee*. Days earlier,
the Hizb ul-Mujahideen chief, Mohammad Yusuf Shah, demanded that the
Pakistan government order Junoon not to perform in Jammu and Kashmir,
claiming its presence in Srinagar would "add insult to injury."

Defiant, Junoon leader Salman Ahmad invited the portly terror commander to
join him "in a musical jihad for peace." Not too many years ago, a remark
like that would have invited certain death; now, all it provoked was an
irate protest by a handful of Kashmir University campus Islamists.

A week before the Junoon concert, though, a more familiar script played
itself out. In April, students from the Anantnag Women's Degree College
travelled across India on a college tour. One evening in Goa, the girls
danced to the tunes of a rock band at a beach restaurant — dressed, it
perhaps needs noting, in nothing more immodest than full-length trousers and
shirts. A student videotaped the evening's harmless fun. When she gave the
tape to an Anantnag storeowner to have it transferred to the compact disc,
someone made copies — and the girls' dream holiday turned hell.

Islamist leader Hilal Ahmad War led the charge, alleging that the girls had
been "made to dance in nightclubs outside the State." It was "shameful and
shocking that our sisters are being exploited and taken to dance clubs and
bars in different States of India under the garb of educational and cultural
tours." He lashed out at officials for "not only encouraging promiscuity in
Kashmir but also facilitating the exploitation of our girls at the hands of

No less than Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the powerful Srinagar cleric who heads the
All Parties Hurriyat Conference, weighed in with the claim that the Anantnag
events pointed to Indian "cultural aggression to keep the younger generation
[away] from religious and moral values."

Several similar instances took place this summer, though their worrying
message has been drowned out by the loud chorus of good news from Jammu and
Kashmir — the flood of tourists, for example, or the decline of violence —
and, of course, the resounding success of Junoon.

Mumbai-based Meenakshi Sharan, who visited Srinagar to counsel school
students on their career options, found herself at the receiving end of a
scurrilous campaign that she was spreading vice — this because, according to
one account, she offered beauty tips and relationship advice to teenage
students. Mirwaiz Farooq announced that "notorious beauticians" had been
"introduced as career counsellors and sent to girls' educational
institutions to promote obscenity and immorality".

For once, his far-right enemies agreed. Asiya Andrabi, head of the
Dukhtaran-e-Millat, lashed out at Ms Sharan, claiming she was "actually
doing the job of luring girls into modelling [to] later exploit them
sexually." This, the Islamist politician claimed, was part of a larger
enterprise of "marketing Kashmiri girls [which] sometimes surfaces by means
of education tours, sometimes through the Army's Operation Sadbhawana and
sometimes through the appointment of Kashmiri girls in different airlines
and insurance companies." "If we don't wake up to this threat, the day won't
be far off when our daughters would be marketed like tulips in the outside
world," Ms Andrabi concluded emphatically. Leaving aside the minor point
that Jammu and Kashmir does not yet have the infrastructure to market tulips
to the world, her paranoiac language contains in it important clues to the
concerns which drive Islamism in the State.

Islamists in Jammu and Kashmir — correctly — identify culture as a more
elemental threat to their project than any number of Indian troops. Over the
years, the idea that the West and Hindu India are together engaged in a
cultural project to annihilate Kashmir and Islam has figured repeatedly in
Islamist discourse.

Examples aren't hard to come by. As scholar Yoginder Sikand has recorded,
the Jamaat-e-Islami long claimed that "a carefully planned Indian conspiracy
was at work to destroy the Islamic identity of the Kashmiris, through
Hinduizing the school syllabus and spreading immorality and vice among the
youth." It was even alleged that "that the government of India had
dispatched a team to Andalusia, headed by the Kashmiri Pandit [politician]
D.P. Dhar, to investigate how Islam was driven out of Spain and to suggest
measures as to how the Spanish experiment could be repeated in Kashmir,
too." Just how little distance there is between these ideas and the
invective directed at the Anantnag students is startling — but it ought not
to surprise anyone.

Among the first acts of jihadists in 1989 — when the long war in Jammu and
Kashmir began — were attacks on bars and stores stocking liquor, followed by
the proscription of popular film and television and the prohibition of
beauty parlours. Women who resisted edicts to wear the veil were often
attacked — some with acid; others with guns. One particularly gruesome
incident was the 1993 murder of Shamima Parveen, the first woman to perform
in the traditional Kashmiri satirical dance-drama form, *Bhaand Paather* — a
tragedy that later formed the core of a play by author M.K. Raina.
Women under Islamist rule

 In an article written eight years ago, journalist Suchita Vemuri provided a
graphic illustration of what life was like for women under Islamist rule.
"Women were pushed into purdah," she wrote, "deprived of access to
contraception and abortion, and prevented from moving freely." Asma Khan, a
senior gynaecologist in the Lal Ded Maternity Hospital, told Ms Vemuri:
"Before this problem, there was a growing awareness of contraception in the
State, and vasectomies and tubectomies were routine. But for several years
now, no vasectomy has been performed; tubectomies have been attempted only
in cases where another pregnancy could be life-threatening." Tanvir Jehan,
Jammu and Kashmir's first woman District Magistrate, made clear that
resistance was impossible: "Till 1995," she said, "I too would do exactly
what they dictated."

Islamists no longer have the military muscle needed to ensure compliance — a
fact demonstrated in stark relief by Mr. Ahmad, whose exemplary courage
ought to teach a lesson or two to politicians in the State. And that, in
turn, has led them to begin to panic.

Writing in the Srinagar-based *Daily Etelaat* on May 16, commentator Omar
Akhtar asserted: "We are losing this battle because we forget [it] is not
only about removing the Indian Army from Kashmir and the Indian flag from
our Secretariat." Back in 1990, Mr. Akhtar argued that the "Kashmiri nation
… sought to bring about the establishment of an Islamic state, from the
suppressive [sic.] influence of the Indian state." Kashmiris, he claimed,
"rose in unison against a perceived 'non-Muslim,' 'unbeliever'." However,
"as a nation, we have failed to stick to the ideals of Islam and we are
[therefore] losing this struggle." "Kashmiris," Mr. Akhtar said, "are more
morally corrupt than ever before; they are more dishonest than ever before;
they are more unseemly in their conduct than ever before."

Arguments like these have long been made by followers of South Asia's most
important Islamist, Abul Ala Maududi. He believed that true believers needed
to be insulated from their cultural environment — from the complex
interactions with local traditions and religions that gave Islam in South
Asia its special character. Islamist patriarch Syed Ali Shah Geelani,
drawing on this tradition, has argued that Hindus and Muslims in India are
"members of two different nations despite living in the same territory." For
Muslims to stay among Hindus is as difficult as it is "for a fish to stay
alive in a desert." For Islamists like Mr. Geelani, modernity and the
pluralist cultural currents which bear it hold out an existential threat.

Through much of its history, Mr. Geelani's parent organisation, the
Jamaat-e-Islami, represented the traditional urban and rural middle class.
Enriched by modernity but denied political space by the National Conference,
these classes saw religion as an instrument with which to defend their
traditional power. The Islamists sought to undermine the National
Conference's influence by representing modernity as a force that threatens
Jammu and Kashmir's identity and honour.

Figures like Ms Andrabi have developed on this tradition, building careers
by fuelling paranoia. In the wake of the uncovering of a large-scale
prostitution racket in Srinagar last year, Ms Andrabi organised physical
attacks on unmarried couples seen together in public. A summer on, the
Islamists are at it again — minus the violence, it is true, but with no less

What kind of society do the Islamists want? Mr. Akhtar put it simply and
honestly: "There should be no guilt in the effort to establish Allah's rule
over our nation."

In a fundamental sense, the conflict in Kashmir is not about its stated
causes. It is not about India, Pakistan and independence; nor about
democracy, secularism, and human rights; not even about Hinduism or Islam.
It is, instead, a showdown between the god of the Islamists and the fiercely
polytheist icon-suffused culture of modern high capitalism. For better or
for worse, young people's responses to the Junoon concert make clear that
Mr. Geelani's god is losing.

Rashneek Kher
Wandhama Massacre-The Forgotten Human Tragedy

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